Colleagues Pay Two-Wheel Tribute to Fallen Officers
Bob Wren met Matt Davis his first day on the job, and they stayed in touch even as their careers took them down separate paths in law enforcement. They became dads about the same time, and over the years they would swap tales about baseball games and growing pains.
So when Davis, a motorcycle patrolman with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, lost his life after a traffic accident this past fall, the news hit Wren hard. And he was especially worried about his friend’s wife, Tammy, who was left alone to raise the couple’s teenage son and two younger daughters.
Wren, a sergeant at the Theo Lacy Jail, joined with some of Davis’ friends and decided to resurrect an idea that had been a success in the past. Two weeks from now, 46 sheriff’s deputies and police officers will pedal their bicycles from Sacramento to Santa Ana in honor of 46 colleagues from Orange County who have lost their lives in the line of duty since officials began keeping track.
The trek’s purpose is twofold: to keep alive memories of their fallen peers and to raise money for the families left behind.
“We want to make sure they’re not forgotten,” Wren said, stressing that it’s equally important to remember the widows. “Their husbands leave for work one day and they have a plan together [for the future]. And by the end of the day, that plan is shattered.”
Davis is one of nine officers in California and 147 nationwide killed in the line of duty in 2002. The memorial ride organized on his behalf is one of many similar events across the United States as the nation mourns its fallen officers during National Police Week, the week of May 15.
David L. Johnston, a spokesman for the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, said cities and towns everywhere honor their own heroes with ceremonies ranging from candlelight vigils to picnics to formal dinners. As far as he knows, the only other bike tour of its kind is the Police Unity Ride from New Jersey to Washington, which has grown significantly since it began in 1997 and welcomes representatives from all states, with the condition that each rider raises $1,250.
This year, 32 men and women from at least seven different California agencies are registered for the Unity ride, most of them from the Los Angeles Police Department. Craig White, an LAPD officer who is organizing the state’s contingent, said 53 officers have died during his 32 years on the job. For him, the most personal was Brian Brown, who died in a shootout with a gang member in Culver City five years ago.
“It’s an excellent way to do something for my fellow officers who have died over the years,” he said.
Davis was the only officer killed in the line of duty in Orange County last year. He was patrolling in Mission Viejo on Sept. 20 when his motorcycle collided with a car driven by a 17-year-old girl. Davis died two days later, with his family at his side.
Davis’ friends modeled their West Coast trek after one that was organized by colleagues in 2001 to pay tribute to Steven Parsons. He was the department’s first motorcycle cop to die in the line of duty.
Riders will leave Sacramento May 18 after a vigil at the Capitol, and the ride will end four days and 603 miles later in Santa Ana, in time for a candlelight vigil. Participants will be divided into three groups, according to their riding level. Unlike the last time, this ride will be like a relay race, allowing riders to pedal a portion of each day’s leg, the longest of which is a 183-mile haul between Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo. A support van will accompany each group.
Each of the riders’ helmets will be inscribed with the name of one of the 46 officers from 19 different agencies who have died in Orange County. Everyone will wear jerseys emblazoned with “Team 999,” a number used as the radio code for “Officer Needs Help -- Emergency.”
“It’s the last numbers you want to hear,” said Harbor Patrol Deputy and marshal arts instructor Ron Dunlap, who rides with Wren on the weekends and mapped out every mile of the memorial ride in his car.
In addition to participants from the Sheriff’s Department, riders this year will include members of police forces in Santa Ana, Placentia, Anaheim and Irvine. At 61, Tim Bertolino will be the oldest among them but not the slowest. Bertolino, a deputy who recently retired from the Harbor Patrol, is considered to be one of the strongest riders.
Wren, who participated in the 2001 ride and often commutes to work on his Canondale bicycle, organizes practice rides on the weekends. On a recent Sunday, he joined Dunlap and Sheriff’s Investigator Bob Wank for a 56-mile ride through north Orange County canyon roads.
Such rides are no sweat compared to the fund-raising, which can require a lot more energy. The riders participate on their own time and pay their own way, relying on charitable discounts to ease the costs of hotels and meals. The group hopes to raise at least $30,000, eclipsing the $24,500 raised in 2001.
The money will be donated to Project 999, a fund created by the Orange County Sheriff’s Advisory Council in 1980 to help families of officers injured or killed in the line of duty. To date, the funds have supported 15 families from seven agencies, covering everything from funeral expenses to home improvements to education.
“We want to make sure that fund is always available,” Wren said. “Hopefully, we won’t need it, but if we do, it will be there.”